Raise your hand if you have felt personally victimized by birth control horror stories. 

Discussions around birth control seem to always creep into the downright terrifying experiences people have had. The ones that make you want to never even want to consider the risk of going through that. Trying to distinguish what is real and what is hearsay through all the fear can be hard, especially when bias-free sex education is extraordinarily hard to come by. 

It’s not revolutionary to say that the sex education of high school has failed us, we simply need to look no further than the drunken comments about the topic from from our friends to know that. If your sex education was anything like mine it could be summed up with Mean Girls’ unfortunately iconic, “You will get pregnant, and you will die.”Even so, some people are not even given the opportunity access sex education, making navigating birth control increasingly difficult! In short, I was taught almost exclusively how to not have sex, and if I did, I had no choice but to face the dire consequences. 

I was entering the world of sex armed with next to nothing in the sex ed. department. I was full of questions, with nowhere to go for answers. I searched in conversations with friends and some admittedly questionable without context googling to try and figure it all out. Turns out any real information can be next to impossible to find. Most conversations revolved around how terrible being on birth control was, and most searches brought about the same kinds of stories from complete strangers.  

Finding answers to questions about sex and birth control wouldn’t be the end of my learning though. Perhaps the most awkward part of navigating it all would come through the necessary conversations that would have to happen with partners. Staying safe requires open conversations about protection that everyone participating should be comfortable in having, but often this is hard to do in reality; it’s okay to feel uncomfortable. There is no shame in wanting to know that you can enjoy yourself in the moment, without having to worry about something going wrong later on. 

Sex is about pleasure, connections, and whatever you feel is right in the moment. However, there is another aspect to maximizing pleasure, and that is protection, but there is one component that is largely absent: birth control. Birth control is something that everyone knows about, but finding real information that is free from bias is not an easy task. The thing is, birth control is just like sex itself: different things are going to work for different people. As with any other medical process, there will be possible side effects. The stories of acne, changes in mood, and seemingly never ending periods are not so prevalent without reason. It can be a bit of a trial and error process navigating it all, but hope is definitely not lost on finding the right fit for you. 

Condoms 

The use of condoms can be a form of  contraception, but the protection rate of them when they are used perfectly is just shy of 98%. Perfect use is extremely uncommon though, with complications coming from the use of oil-based lubes that can degrade the latex, accidental holes, and a whole load of others that are bound to happen, meaning more realistically condoms alone are around 85% effective at pregnancy prevention. If you are looking for a little more certainty, there are more options that provide protection on more of a long-term basis. Unlike any other methods of birth control, condoms are the only ones that protect against STDs. Bottom line: for sex with a partner of unknown STD status, condoms are a must. 

Birth Control Pills 

The pill has gotten a historically bad reputation, but don’t let that scare you away. There are a variety of forms of birth control pills, making it much easier to find a fit that is best for you. Birth control pills act by using synthetic hormones to increase mucus at the cervix, preventing sperm from entering the uterus. Birth control pills have a wide range of uses though, covering everything from acne treatment, to regulating menstrual cycles, and of course, pregnancy prevention. 

The most common form comes in combination pills containing both progestin and estrogen, which are just synthetic forms of the hormones progesterone and estrogen. These combination pills do not need to be taken at the same time everyday, providing a little more flexibility in staying protected. All you need to remember is to take one a day, which can still be a little challenging for those like me who are forgetful. In terms of pack sizes, 28-day (4 weeks) and 21-day (3 weeks) are typically what will be used. For a 28-day pack, all you need to do is take one pill everyday for the full 28 days, and then start a new pack on day 29. The last week’s worth are placebos, known as “sugar pills” and this would be the week that you get your period. For 21-day packs, you would take a pill everyday for the 21-days, and then not take any for the week between packs. The purpose of the 28-day pack placebos is just to act as a reminder to start the new pack, so if having that reminder is helpful, the 28-day pack may be for you. Other than that, there is no difference in pack lengths. Another plus to combination pills for some and with the recommendation of your doctor,  it can be safe to skip a period. All that would entail is skipping the placebo or pill-free week depending on the pack size you use, and starting a new pack. 

Progestin-only pills (also known as the mini-pill) are the ones that need to be taken within the same three hour period everyday. Since these pills only contain one synthetic hormone, they have been known to have a lower chance of side effects occurring. These come exclusively in 28-day packs and do not have a hormone-free week, meaning you must take it within that three hour period to properly prevent pregnancy.  You may or may not have a period during the fourth week, but there is no way of telling how your body will react ahead of its use. There are also some tricks to staying on top of it including setting alarms, using an app for reminders, or even synching when you take it with a friend to remind each other. 

If you do happen to miss a pill, it is not necessarily a cause for complete panic. So before you start frantically taking as many pills as you missed, check out this guide created by Planned Parenthood outlining the proper next steps depending on the type and brand of pill that you are taking. If you do happen to miss a pill and do have sex, make sure to use a condom for some extra protection until you are back on track. Some women on birth control have reported pregnancies as a result of missing pills, whereas for others, it sometimes takes months to rid one’s body of the birth control. 

The Ring 

The ring is something that I had never heard of until recently. There are two forms, the NuvaRing and Annovera, both which require the insertion of a small, flexible ring into the vagina that releases hormones for prevention. With NuvaRing, you insert a new ring about once a month, and like combination pills, you can safely skip a period. Effectiveness does decrease if it is removed for more than 2 days during the weeks it should be worn. Annovera lasts for a year, requiring that it is worn for three weeks a month, then removed for a week, and then reinserted until it is replaced after about 13 cycles total. Effectiveness of this does decrease if it is removed for more than two hours during that three week period. 

The ring works by thickening mucus at the cervix, as well as stopping ovulation through its release of estrogen. This is another option that does require you to stay on schedule with removal to maximize its effectiveness at 99%. Another plus is that if pregnancy is a path you are wanting to explore in the near future, regular cycles can return 1-2 months after removal. 

The Patch 

The patch provides protection like many of the other options: thickening mucus and stopping ovulation. Think of it like a band-aid contraceptive. It’s a small, square patch that is stuck on the lower abdomen, upper arm, upper body, or glutes. Placement will change week to week between these four areas of the body. Use of it is simple. All you need to do is stick it on and hold it for 10 seconds. After a week, a new patch will go in a new spot for three weeks, and then there will be one week off. 

The weekly replacement makes it a little easier to remember once a week versus every single day. If there are slip ups with its use, proper protocols to follow to stay protected can be found here.   

Intrauterine Devices (IUDs)

If you are looking for an option that doesn’t require you to remember a pill everyday, or something a little less of a headache to stay on top of, Intrauterine devices (IUDs) may be the right fit for you. IUDs are t-shaped devices that are inserted into the uterus to prevent pregnancy anywhere from 3 to 12 years depending on the type, and can be removed at any time. They come in two forms: hormonal or copper (hormone-free). 

Hormonal IUDs use the same method of synthetic progestin to produce mucus as the pill, but with an added component of sometimes stopping ovulation altogether. Hormonal IUDs are up to 99% effective in preventing pregnancy, and can even be used as an emergency contraceptive up to 5 days after sex. 

Copper IUDs, also known as the Paraguard, are the only birth control method free from any hormones, making it a great option for anybody who does not react well to synthetic hormones. These IUDs are wrapped in copper, which is toxic to sperm, stopping fertilization from occurring. However, individuals who use both copper and hormonal IUDs can be subject to changes in their skin, and these reactions can develop months after use begins. One’s reaction to contraceptives is often a long process of trial and error to see what works for you!

Emergency Contraceptives 

Listen, shit happens. Whether you are using any form of birth control or not, you may find yourself in need of an emergency contraceptive for whatever reason, and that is entirely okay. There are a couple of options available for emergency contraception. As mentioned previously, hormonal IUDs can be used up to 5 days after sex. It can be difficult to get an appointment within the five-day period, but if that is possible, it can provide an immediate and longer-term solution. 

The Plan-B pill is readily available in pharmacies. It can be purchased over-the-counter without any restrictions on who can purchase it. These pills prevent pregnancy by temporarily stopping ovulation and are best-suited for use up to three days after sex. The rumours about it becoming less effective with continued use are not in fact true. However, with a price tag of $40 and a list of not so enjoyable side-effects.. In addition, individuals who use this pill over three times are incredibly vulnerable to infertility. It is safe to say that this is not the safest bet to rely on it alone

With the growing number of options, there truly is a right fit for everyone. Don’t let the bad experiences scare you away, it was most likely just a case of being the wrong fit and it’s ultimately most important to stay safe in order to have an enjoyable sex life. Of course, there are risks and that you  should never subject yourself to if  that doesn’t feel right for you. But if you think you have found the right option, take a moment to discuss it with your doctor, and the next time you have sex, discuss prevention with your partner. 

It’s time to start having awkward talks. The questions of STD status and birth control may feel strange, but there is greater pleasure to be found in knowing that both you and your partner are safe and protected. Cause hey, there’s nothing better than consensual, safe, and informed sex.

 

 

Next Post

WHAT’S THE VIBE